Major League Rugby recently kicked off its third professional season in the United States, and this year is set to be bigger than ever. The league has been aggressive in its expansion, introducing three new additional franchises this season based out of Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New England. Major League Rugby has also brought along star power in the form of recognizable international players to bolster the competition.
These signings bring a wealth of experience and professionalism which is crucial for teams in their infancy. However, not all stars shine equally as bright, and this has certainly been the case in the early stages of the competition. Let’s take a look at how each ‘import’ has fared over the first two rounds.
A quick glance at the legendary All Black’s birth certificate may have led to the assumption that Nonu is over the hill at this stage of his career.
However, the 37-year-old has arguably been the best player over the first two rounds of play, leading an utterly dominant San Diego outfit to two convincing wins. It should come as no surprise since Nonu was stringing together quality performances in Super Rugby last season, just missing out on an unlikely All Blacks recall.
Following a shaky start in the championship rematch versus the Seattle Seawolves, Nonu flipped the tenor of the game with some sumptuous passes that unleashed the San Diego backline into the wide channels. The inside centre took control of the match and orchestrated two beautiful tries to blow the game wide open in the second half.
Nonu followed up on this performance up with an outstanding maiden try in Las Vegas, busting out his patented side-step to blow by fellow former All Black, Rene Ranger. The San Diego Legion have clearly been the cream of Major League Rugby so far, and Nonu is at the heart of it all.
Although it has only been two games, Bastareaud’s performances for New York have been an unmitigated disaster. The former French captain lined up at inside centre in his debut and was anonymous for most of the match, his team getting thoroughly out-classed by New England. While the newly introduced Free Jacks came out firing, New York followed the lead of their big-name star and were a step slow all game.
Bastareaud has never possessed the typical figure of an international centre, but more concerning was his disinterest in asserting his trademark physicality. In an attempt to rekindle that combative flame New York moved Basteraud to eight-man for their second match, a position he frequented while at Lyon. It took all of sixty seconds for the big man to be on the receiving end of a highlight reel hit.
Hey Basta, Welcome to the MLR.
— Austin Gilgronis (@Gilgronis) February 16, 2020
Outside of a few rampaging runs from the back of the scrum, Bastareaud was once again an afterthought in the game. The New York back-line also looked far sharper without Bastareaud in the midfield, albeit against a weaker opponent. Despite the convincing win, it will be crucial for Bastareaud to be his usual destructive self in contact and at the breakdown against the best teams. If New York hopes to return to the playoffs they will need to find the right position to unlock their star’s quality.
Mtawirara’s introduction to the Major League Rugby couldn’t have gone much better. In front of a sold-out crowd in their first-ever home game, ‘the Beast’ helped Old Glory record an impressive win over the defending champion Seattle Seawolves on debut. The World Cup winning prop was quite the attraction after the game as well!
Mtawirara helped anchor a scrum that was pulverized the week prior. Although their set-piece was still under immense pressure, the Beast’s presence made a drastic difference that kept his team afloat against what has been the best scrummaging team in the competition. Mtawirara threw himself across the park in open play for 70 minutes and injected life into his new team.
Another former All Black in the competition, Ranger has had a quieter start to the season than his mid-field counterpart Nonu. The destructive ball runner missed a large portion of the Super Rugby competition last year with the Sunwolves after rupturing his ACL in the opening round, so it is justifiable that he will slowly find his feet.
Ranger made his debut off of the bench in the opening round, being utilized as an outside centre for the Colorado Raptors rather than on the wing in an upset loss in Houston. In his second game Ranger looked far more threatening in attack against San Diego, setting up a try with a quality miss pass. Ranger may have been stepped out of his boots by Nonu early in the first half, but he regained his footing and will likely be the main source of line breaks for Colorado in the back-line.
The Raptors’ other notable signing, Digby Ioane, is yet to suit up for them yet but could be a major boon for a team that is looking for a spark.
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